Getting the message out there when it comes to any subject based around security can be tough at times – there can be much resistance and for many different reasons, ranging from indifference to the subject matter to not understanding the source material.
One man has made it his mission to change all that – Bruce Hallas of The Analogies Project is keen to bring storytelling into the way that we educate people on infosec topics. His vision is grand and he will make a huge success of his project because the idea is simple and it most definitely works.
But are there other ways to educate people when the subject has, perhaps, got a reputation for being a bit boring, or taught by those who fail in the communication stakes?
I think there is, and one way is via games.
Introducing Data Dealer
Online privacy is a hot topic these days.
Or at least it should be.
With the explosion of the web came a huge range of sites that are all vying for your personal information whether you know it or not. From social networking giants such as Facebook, through internet search engines like Google and all the way down to Joe Blogs in his bedroom, it seems like everyone wants to know who you are. And in great detail.
many people are unaware of just how much information they give away. Either that or they simply don’t care. Whatever you do online theres a good chance that you will be trading or giving away data that reveals many things about you. From signing up to free newsletters that require your name and email address to registering online accounts that are far more inquisitive, your personal information has become a virtual currency. Too bad some give it away far too easily then.
Designed by a team of four from Vienna, Austria (pictured below), the game isn’t quite finished yet – there is no intro, logging in, no sound and no saving the game (boo!). But it is well on the way – a demo version is available right now and plays very well indeed. And it sure does raise awareness about online privacy.
Data dealer is a browser game, like the sort of thing you may see (ironically) on Facebook, in a Farmville-esque kind of way.
Its free to play and far too easy to get into – I’m simply not a browser gamer at all, much preferring ‘proper’ games on the PC but yet I still got hooked into this for a few hours and curse the developers for not giving me the ability to save my game yet!
To get started you simply need to visit the Data dealer site and click on the Launch button. Then sit back and play and learn in tandem.
With this demo version of the game you actually join in a little way down the road of data gathering – in the final release you’ll start from nothing – so the screen shots you see here are probably a little more crowded than what you’ll see in the final product, at least until you really start getting into it. I for one was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see what ‘Tracebook’ was all about, though I think I can guess.
The point of the game is as follows:
- Become a data dealing rockstar, gathering information from, well, everyone really
- Build an empire on the back of all that data you are collecting – you can build up companies that, you guessed it, acquire more and more data
- Turn all that information you have collated into cold hard cash – there are many buyers out there
Along the way you’ll score points and go up levels – my recent play through saw me reach level 12 – can you beat that?
When you start the game, at least in demo mode, you’ll see a screen somewhat like the one above. At first it may seem like there is a huge amount of information on the screen but don’t worry – you’re a data dealer after all, so you’ll quickly learn how to process it all.
The main screen, shown above, has your data empire on it. Here you can see how many profiles you have acquired, how much cash you have and the amount of energy you have remaining (every action depletes your energy level and you need to either wait at times or level up in order to replenish it). There is also an indicator (the red one) which signifies your risk level – collecting data can be perilous at times and the bad guys (thats us ordinary folk) can get antsy at times so this is an area you have to manage throughout the game. Finally, the yellow indicator to the right displays your level and number of experience points. This increases over time as you collect more info and make money from it.
There are 3 tabs at the top of the screen – My Empire (more on that later), Database and Help. Its fairly obvious what the last of those options are for so I won’t elaborate further. Here, though, is the database –
On this screen you can add all the profiles you have captured into your database. Every time you gather more information you will notice that much is for new people but, depending on how you source that information, you’ll also note that many existing profiles will get updated too.
This seems to be important as, from what I could tell in my limited game time, the type of information you have available will influence who will pay the highest price for it.
As you can see, there is a whole lot of data on that screen which represents all the types of information that people just like you give away on a daily basis. Makes you think doesn’t it? Especially as this game really does drive home the point that all this data has a financial value to various different organisations. Chillingly, the Central Security Agency appeared to be the best payer in the game I played. Are you worried yet?
Back to your Empire and you will notice that your screen is well populated with people, your assets and the companies you will do business with.
Each of these have a different role to play as you build up your information gathering dynasty.
There are a few different characters, as well as your companies, who will acquire a wealth of information for you in a manner of different ways, be they legal, unethical or downright wrong.
You’ll pay for this information one way or another, whether that be in terms of cash or energy, but it all has a value so why not?
The various different sources you can use for information gathering will pick up different aspects from their victims so it pays to read all the descriptions – managing the types of data that you acquire will help to maximise your income as the buyers all have different requirements in terms of what they are looking for.
So, you pay a few nefarious people (and some of the character are based on real life persons I’m sure) and they collect a whole lot of info. You then plug this into your database and your files get updated. As your collection of information grows it will become more and more attractive to potential buyers. Click on each and you’ll discover what they are looking for. Find a good match for the data you have to hand and then sell it to them for the largest amount of money.
After you have been playing for a while you should have accumulated a fair few dollars. So what do you do with this new found wealth?
Invest it into gathering even more data of course.
And when it comes to making investments you have a few choices of where to put your money and how to spend it.
Each of the companies you control performs a similar function – they are looking to harvest data which you can then plug back into your database. Each will gather different facets of information though so be careful to match what they are offering with what you feel you need.
Once you have a good match you can invest your dollars in return for more profiles. As the game progresses you may want to invest in different businesses in order to gain a more diverse range of information.
Why would you do this?
Well, getting to know more about peoples’ private lives is incredibly addictive (figuratively and literally) so why not eh?
Each business can then be enhanced as the money to do so comes rolling into your bank account. you can do this in a few different ways from upgrading the business to advertising and by employing team members.
Each choice that you make will have consequences. For instance, getting an ex-athlete to promote the business will cost you but it will also mean that the data gathering ability of the company will be greatly enhanced and the risk of causing uproar through your actions will be slightly diminished via your association with a celebrity.
Enhance a business a little and then you’ll start to reap the rewards in terms of bagging more and more profiles.
Take this data to someone who wants it and they’ll pay more and more as your database becomes bigger.
This will then allow you to go back and invest more in your empire – its addictive – and so continue improving your network of information gatherers.
As you may imagine, lawyers are always a good employee to start off with as the risks of doing business in this market are high and you don’t want the sheep to start complaining about just how you know about them.
Now that your empire is starting to grow you may want to start getting serious – you can hire interns, managers and all sorts of other personnel, including psychologists, all of whom will serve a purpose in terms of increasing your ability to acquire profiles or by reducing the risks inherent in this type of business model.
Overall I had a great time playing Data dealer. Its not the finished article yet but its pretty darn close. I think the introduction of a save game will make it much, much better as this is not a 5 minute game. There will also be sound in the finished article which I imagine will improve things again.
Additionally, the final release will incorporate a multi-player element which may prove to be very interesting indeed. You’ll also be able to login to your game via social networks and other services including Twitter, Facebook and Google (I’m sure theres a message in there somewhere).
Beyond the game there is an important message.
Whilst playing you’ll probably think that its just a game, which it is, but when you close your browser after a session you will, most likely, reflect on what the game is telling you – your information has a high value and you give it out far too willingly.
Due to the nature of the teaching method I’d expect this message to stick with you and help raise your awareness of the growing number of privacy concerns that face us every day across the entire spectrum of the world wide web.
Whether you do anything about that is very much down to you but Data dealer will, at the very least I hope, loosen the connection between you and the data gathering matrix.
All images (c) datadealer.com CC-BY-SA